Bill Little commentary: Holding on to what's dear
The message of the final Texas Longhorn practice before Saturday's Top 10 match up against Texas Tech was simple.
Without going into all of the examples here, Mack Brown's point, emphasized and re-emphasized, was simple: "They (Texas Tech) are trying to take something you hold dear. Don't let them do it."
Not in our house.
Coming into Saturday's match up between No. 2 Texas and No. 10 Texas Tech, most of the speculation concerned the effectiveness of the Red Raider passing attack versus the Texas defense, and how the newly reborn Tech defense would fare against Vince Young and his Longhorn offense.
In most views, it was the clash of a creative scheme by Texas Tech coach Mike Leach against a rare talent in Young. Those were the names most commentators mentioned first in any discussion of the game.
They said the Tech quarterback, Cody Hodges, was simply a clone of his very effective predecessors. Young, on the other hand, was coming off his best game (against Colorado), and was the acknowledged leader of Texas. Many went beyond that. Some said that Young not only led Texas, in their minds, he was Texas.
Webster tells us that a "cliché" is a truth told so many times it becomes overused.
Saturday in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, several clichéd truths emerged.
While all of the pre-game hype talked of the offenses and defenses, it would be the kicking game that would set the tone of the day. For the 20 years he coached, whenever Darrell Royal was asked about what would determine the outcome of a high profile game, he would always respond, "Turnovers and the kicking game."
The turnovers were even Saturday, but the Longhorns turned the field around with the kicking game in their 52-17 win.
The former sports editor of the Austin American Statesman, Lou Maysel, used to keep a line chart of the games he covered. He accounted for every movement of the football...noting every yard the football moved. After the Rose Bowl, someone sent Mack Brown a similar chart. It is a graphic capsule of the game.
Brown calls those special teams yards "hidden yards." And so they were on Saturday.
After Texas Tech scored in the first quarter to take a 7-3 lead, Ramonce Taylor's 37-yard kickoff return set the Longhorns up at the UT 45. Even though Tech intercepted Young on the next series, the ball was at the other end of the field. When Texas held and forced a punt from Tech's four, Quan Cosby took it back to the Raider eight, and five plays later Texas was in front, 10-7.
The pivotal play of the game would come midway through the second quarter, with Texas leading, 17-10. Trying to nail Texas deep in its own territory with a short punt from the Longhorn 40, the Raiders' punter, Alex Reyes bobbled the snap, and Michael Griffin blocked the kick, which rolled out of bounds at the Tech 23.
Young's 15-yard pass to Billy Pittman gave Texas a two-touchdown lead. Tech tried to answer with an impressive drive to a second-and-goal from the Texas seven, but Aaron Harris deflected a pass and Tim Crowder intercepted. An 88-yard drive, with a 48-yard pass from Young to Pittman as its keystone play, led to another touchdown and a 31-10 halftime lead.
Young was efficient, but he has had more spectacular days. That was not important Saturday. What mattered was the way the Texas team played as a team.
When the offense seemed to struggle early, the kicking team gave it a boost. When the defense was on its heels, the offense stepped up. When the offense began to sag a bit, the defense took over the game.
It was, after all, a complete team effort. And if that's a cliché, so be it.
Young could have made a sandwich during the time he was allowed by the Texas offensive line and blocking scheme when he dropped back to pass. Hodges, on the other hand, saw wave after wave of Longhorn defenders coming at him.
The game was also a tip of the hat to the conditioning of the Longhorns. Tech had the ball for over 12 minutes more than the Longhorns, and the Raiders had 93 snaps, as opposed to only 63 for Texas. But in the end, it was the Tech offensive line that gave out.
For the game, those 93 Texas Tech plays netted 468 yards of total offense. In the fourth quarter, Tech managed only 64 yards on 19 plays. The Raiders had a net loss of -24 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
For the Texas defense, the game was never about yards surrendered, it was about points surrendered. That's the next cliché. The late Mike Campbell, Darrell Royal's defensive guru during the glory years of the 1960s and 1970s, established a defensive theory of "Bend, but don't break." It may be a cliché, but it worked for the 2005 version of Longhorns on Saturday.
Now, 7-0 for the first time since 1983, Texas has to employ another truism. They have to "Take one game at a time." That 1983 team rode through 11 weeks of the regular season as the No. 2 team behind Nebraska. Long before there was a BCS, people talked of how cool it would be to match those two after their respective bowl games, Nebraska against Miami in the Orange Bowl and Texas versus Georgia in the Cotton.
That was still the talk on January 1, 1984, when the bowl games were played. In the afternoon, Texas fumbled a punt late in the game and Georgia scored an upset 10-9 victory to hand Texas its only loss. That night, Nebraska fell to Miami, which would eventually be crowned National Champion.
Until that day, no one thought either of the two juggernauts could be challenged.
If the similarities are striking with USC and Texas as No. 1 and No. 2 in 2005, it is worth remembering the past. Assume nothing. Take Dead Aim. Whatever cliché you want, use it.
Mack Brown has stressed to his team that they should "enjoy the journey."
Not many teams ever get to travel the rode Texas is on.
Right now, the team is enjoying playing the games, and with back-to-back road trips to Oklahoma State and Baylor coming, that is critical. This week in particular, after games against Oklahoma and ranked opponents Colorado and Texas Tech, the 'Horns will need to be cautious of not getting blindsided in Stillwater against the Cowboys.
What we learned Saturday, and what the nation and the national media saw, was that this truly is a "team" in the finest sense of the word. It is togetherness, about counting on each other, picking each other up...from the coaches to the players to Brown, himself.
As we said, if that's a cliché, so be it.
It is also a fact, and the one thing that when all else fails, can carry you through.